Interview # 3: The Enterprise Architect

Interesting People

From the pre-Net C and Cobol days working for airline departure control systems to Java development and consequently Enterprise Architecture within a large bank – Greg has certainly seen a lot during his time. What was his path like and how did he exactly get here? Let us take a closer look at his career thus far.

IN THE BEGINNING

MMA. Greg, always good to talk to you. I’ve appreciated you from a work-perspective but must admit that I know little about your path. Can we start with what you wanted to be when you were young?

A. When I was younger I always wanted to be a Marine Biologist… but I grew out of that… The progression into my current profession wasn’t really planned. It was more the case of one thing led to another.

MMA. Really? So did you study that in university?

A. No I didn’t. I was taking up mechanical engineering actually after my HSC. I did that for about 1.5 years then came to the conclusion that it wasn’t really me. The thought of fixing elevators and air conditioning units didn’t really appeal…

THE DEVELOPER PHASE

MMA. It’s hard when you’re young. The opportunities are there but it’s hard to make a choice and stick with it when you’re really just discovering yourself. So what did you do after that?

A. I went to TAFE and studied C, Cobol and Visual Basic. Well it was actually quite funny how it turned out; I could have probably taught the programming subjects…. Did I fail to mention that my dad was a programmer? He bought the family a Texas Instrument 99 4A when I was about 8 and I used to spend hours typing in game listings from magazines and writing my own games… So I had early exposure to programming thanks to my dad.

MMA. That’s old school! Wow. And you programmed after TAFE?

A. Yep. Around 1994 I was a programmer in the airline industry working on departure control systems, check in and boarding systems. I did that for about 7 years and got to travel a fair bit to Asia, US, Europe etc. Our client list included Qantas, Air New Zealand, Thai Airways and others. It was a quite an exciting time in my professional life. It was also the start (around 1997) of real money heading into e-commerce. I was lucky enough to be around to build some pretty cutting edge Internet systems when web suddenly exploded onto the scene.

MMA. Timing and talent I’m sure. I guess you had an ideal life of being young, travelling and working in a field you were a natural in.

A. You could say that. I also received a sense of fulfilment in developing systems. From a career development perspective, I started off as a junior programmer to being a senior in a team lead capacity to eventually being a system designer in the late 90’s. So the progression was fluid and more importantly I learned a lot of things along the way. I guess that is now all experience under the belt.

 THE ARCHITECTURE PHASE

MMA. Indeed. So the 1990’s would have brought about a lot of changes including the rapid growth of the Internet.

A. It surely did. Helping to build a whole bunch of airlines first Internet booking systems was pretty exciting. Eventually I moved out of the travel industry built a system for Tetra Pak.

MMA. Tetra Pak as in the cartons?

A. That’s right. As in the milk cartons. One of the worlds largest privately owned companies! This was my first project with them as a consultant and we were designing their online parts ordering site, or their “e-Parts” capability as it was called back then.

MMA. When you say that, it implies that there was a second project?

A. Yes there was but in-between it was Priceline.com – the online airline and hotel reservations not the Priceline we have here in Australia. They were based in the Connecticut in the USA and were trying to start up out here!

I basically was responsible for designing the payment solutions for customers that used their credit cards as payment. We created a really cool design that load balanced payments.

MMA. Nice. That would have been a cool algo.

A. It looked at the value of the payment, and based on our merchant agreements and fees, would route the payment throw one of our 2 payment gateways to get the cheapest rate! It was deployed successfully and it was really a very rewarding project.

MMA. So your career up to this point, involved a lot of travelling. The transient lifestyle obviously suited.

A. It did as we were discussing before. But when the tech bubble burst in late 2000, it was time to try something different. A few mates and I thought we might be able to do it better… So we set up our own company; a consultancy business and had a team just under 20 people. This is when the Tetra Pak project part 2 came into play which was all about packaging.

The e-parts systems was pretty much designed and built by me, but the packaging system was much larger and provided a great opportunity for the whole team to design and build the entire packaging solutions for Tetra Pak. It was very rewarding from the point of view that I designed the entire architecture of the system.

We eventually sold the business to an Online Web Development company.

MMA. It sounds like you had your hands full running a company and being hands-on with architecture design.

A. I was a director of my company, salesman, the architect and also the do-er. I quite enjoy programming… but it was a lot of work with a lot of stress to go with it.

MMA. When you sold the business, did you go back to the consulting space?

A. Yes but I joined an established consulting firm instead of starting my own up again. Let me tell you that this firm was fairly strict in the interview process, having to go through a 5-stage interview process which included presenting system development theories and application designs on the whiteboard. I actually applied with them years before but didn’t make the cut.

Now however, I was ready having more years of experience under my belt.

The entire reason for joining this firm was that I really needed to establish a few key areas in my professional career; I wanted more structure and more discipline in system engineering which were areas that I informally learnt on the job. I was looking to add more formality and governance around the way I operated. This firm was a perfect fit, as it had a reputation for having really strong methodology and worked with large corporations.

Additionally, after running my own company, I wanted to ready myself from a business point of view as well. Kind of work out what I did wrong or could do better the next time I had to look after more than just the technical aspects of my job, so I started a Masters of Business and Technology at AGSM[1]. The MBT seemed a better fit for me than a straight MBA.

MMA. Working and studying is always tough; I had to do it too so automatic respect goes straight out to you.

Working for a consulting firm means that they would have placed you with several clients, right? Where were these and how did you find them?

A. To be honest I was only ever placed with one client because I’ve stayed on with this one client up to this day!

So in my 2nd week with the new consultancy, I was sent out to cover someone on holidays at the bank I still work at today and I have been here ever since. I continued to consult for 3 years on projects such as telephone banking and content management system replacements. Both of which were successfully implemented.

It was at this point that I then jumped the fence and went full time with the client. The thing that I found with being a consultant, particularly in architecture, is that you are always kept at arm’s length by the client even though you have worked and delivered projects with these people. They still see you as a consultant and not part of their “family”.

MMA. No problem with the entire consulting firm-to-client relationship there?

A. I thought that there may be, but to be honest both the consulting firm and the client were good about it and came to an agreement. So I landed with this bank in the end. I’m still on great terms with my previous company and regularly work with their consultants still.

MMA. And so can you tell us what you are doing now?

A. I am working on a core banking project to replace an existing online system for both desktop and mobile.

THE POST-ARCHITECTURE PHASE

MMA. So what’s in store with your own crystal ball career-wise?

A. I want to make the move into the business eventually; controlling my own budgets, projects and just generally driving initiatives. I can still see myself within channel teams in the bank and leveraging of my architecture and development background to really drive smarter business solutions.

MMA. That’s fair enough. Would you then say that this has been the most rewarding point in your career?

A. Well to be honest it would be the Tetra Pak project. Remember that we were a team of 5 on the project and were competing against giants like SAP and Oracle to deliver a system to the client – and we got it in the end!

In addition to that, the business was churning out $10 billion euros a month in 13 countries. The system we built just ran!

On the flipside that was also the most challenging part of my life as I was running a business and had my own people, many of them good friends! I constantly had to stress over the fact that sales each month must exceed business expenses!

MMA. I hear that. And what was the strangest moment in your working career?

A. Strangest or most nerve-racking?

MMA. Seems like you have something in mind to tell me here.

A. Haha, I do. It was when I executed a command line with the production database and it appeared to have wiped out the system!

MMA. Wiped out?

A. Well that’s what I thought it did. I actually just dropped an alias to the database…. It might sound trivial now that I retell the story but let me tell you that it was absolutely heart-stopping when it happened!

MMA. I can just picture it Greg. That must have been a relief that it was just an alias and you still have the production system “functioning”. Can I now ask you what you do in your spare time?

A. There’s a few things here: Photography, fitness, Golf, Rugby Union (both as a spectator and playing), checking out the latest gadgets and net trends and I also DJ.

MMA. A man of many talents! I’m actually amazed that you can fit so many things outside work.

A. The missus is quite understanding. We don’t have kids just yet so we still have time to chase our own hobbies.

Out of those I just said, I really have a passion for photography. Some of my pics have been framed and are hanging on a wall in the local café. To me though, I don’t see this as a money-making venture as I never would want to lose the creativity it brings… don’t want it becoming the daily grind.

MMA. That’s a fair enough comment too. So do you have any tips for any up and comers?

A. Keep your skills current and go through the process of learning the system from a development point of view before graduating into architecture. I generally have respect for people that can drop into the low detail rather than produce great powerpoint!

MMA. Nicely said. So with that Greg I wanted to thank you for your precious time. I understand you have a lot on!

A. Not a problem at all. This is the first time I really have had a chance to retell my story so that’s a good thing.

MMA. Oh, did I forget to ask you how you like spending after-work socials?

A. That’s easy: drinks anywhere!

MMA. No particular place you fancy around town?

A. I don’t discriminate; drinks anywhere!

Greg’s identity has been masked upon his request. This blog uses real people who have worked for more than 5 years in the Australian Banking and IT industry.

Market Measures Australia


[1] Masters of Business and Technology from the University of New South Wales.

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